Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has never run for mayor, but that’s where the longtime Democratic leader found himself after Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Monday that she is temporarily stepping down.
It’s a succession plan familiar to Young, whose council colleagues elected him council president in 2010 after then-Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ascended to mayor’s office — all because Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned as part of a plea deal to resolve a criminal case brought by the Maryland state prosecutor.
The 64-year-old married father of two has served on the council for 21 years, easily winning the seat twice since his appointment and amassing what many say is a formidable campaign account of nearly $600,000 as he approaches a re-election campaign next year.
Pugh stepped aside Monday, citing declining health after two weeks with pneumonia.
“I’m heartbroken about the mayor taking a stance that she has to take more time because of her health,” Young said. “She’s taken a temporarily leave of absence, which means I am ex officio mayor — not mayor.”
Pugh’s announcement came hours after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan asked State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt to begin a criminal investigation of Pugh’s sale of a series of children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its board. Davitt declined to comment on whether an investigation was under way.
Pugh, a Democrat, did not address the book deal or the potential investigation.
Asked if he would use his temporary role to start a city investigation of Pugh, Young said in an interview: “We have all of the state agencies and we have the governor’s office and legislators looking into all of that stuff. So, I am going to let them do their job while I focus on running the city and keeping things moving like they should be.”
Young, an East Baltimore native, said he will still be paid as council president ($119,000), not as mayor ($185,000), and will remain in the council president’s offices.
“People shouldn’t notice any difference,” the Democrat said. “I am looking forward to having a meeting with all of the department heads to talk to them.”
Young said he will travel around Baltimore to meet with city workers, including police officers.
“I am going to talk to the police officers because I need them to stay focused because we have a serious crime issue in this city,” Young said. “I want to assure them that the city is going to be in good hands until the mayor recovers.”
Young was first elected to the council in 1996 in what was then the 2nd District, in East Baltimore. Before that election, Young worked as a special assistant to then-City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who remains a council member.
Clarke said Monday that Young “is a person who takes his responsibility seriously and will do whatever needs to be done.”
“He loves being president of the City Council, but he also loves Baltimore City,” Clarke said. “It’s time for him to move up there and keep us going and lead us into a better future.”
She said he is known as a tireless public servant who is constantly out and about in Baltimore.
“He’s been a great president. He’s everywhere,” Clarke said. “Mayor is not something he ever aspired to. I like him as acting mayor because he never aspired to it.”
Young made it clear Monday that was the case.
“Upon the mayor’s return, I will come back to doing what I do,” he said in an interview. As for the 2020 election, “I will be running for president of City Council.”
Young traveled to Washington in 2017 to lobby for more federal gun control, fought for city legislation to establish a $20 million affordable housing fund in Baltimore, and has championed various laws to improve the “everyday lives” of city residents, Clarke said.
She also praised him for spearheading a 2016 referendum that voters approved to establish a fund for children’s programs. The fund, which is being managed by Associated Black Charities, started in 2018 with $12 million and has been praised for awarding grants to various groups that deliver programs and services to young people in Baltimore.
Associated Black Charities has ties to issues that have arisen over Pugh’s book sales. The Baltimore nonprofit announced Monday that it spent nearly $88,000 donated to it by five organizations to purchase 10,000 of the mayor’s “Healthy Holly” books between 2011 and 2016.
The council president said he spoke Monday to Pugh and her voice was still affected by her illness, while noting that he himself didn’t sound his best, as he is fighting bronchitis.
While Young serves as mayor, Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton will be council president. That means she will lead council and Board of Estimates meetings while continuing to represent her district.
Pugh stepped aside as mayor amid questions about the $500,000 she made selling her books to the medical system between 2011 and 2018. After questions arose last month about the deals, Pugh resigned from the medical system’s board. Two other board members also resigned after The Sun reported their inside deals with the hospital network.
Young is no stranger to scrutiny — or to hitting back hard when it arises.
In 2003, the U.S. attorney’s office issued subpoenas to the 19-member council as it investigated the elected officials for hiring relatives as paid assistants, accepting free parking and free admission to movies and events at the Baltimore arena. Young, who is African American, decried the investigation as “racially motivated” by a Republican federal prosecutor. The case ended after The Sun revealed that the prosecutor had possible political bias in starting it and the U.S. Justice Department required public corruption probes to get prior approval.
In 2010, Young faced questions about the ownership of several homes and whether he lived in Baltimore. When questions arose about which of his two city houses Young lived in, the council president led reporters into his Central Avenue home and showed them his underwear drawer to prove he lived there. A review by the Baltimore city solicitor’s office cleared him of any impropriety.
And in 2012, Young had to repay Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis for tickets to his skybox during a playoff game. At the time, Young said he would repay the cost so he would comply with an ethics law that banned such gifts.